“Pictures could not be accessories to the story — evidence — they had to contain the story within the frame; the best picture contained a whole war within one frame.”
–Tatjana Soli, The Lotus Eaters
Jennifer Georgescu is a multimedia artist who lives and works in Basel, Switzerland. Georgescu was awarded her BFA from Watkins College of Art, Design & Film, a small art institute located in Nashville, Tennesee. (It has since merged and become the Watkins College of Art at Belmont University.) Her work entitled “Mother Series” has been seen in solo exhibitions at The Griffin Museum of Photography (MA) and Cornell/Henry Fine Art in La Jolla, with an additional showing on the horizon at Blue Sky Gallery (OR), opening in July of this year. Group Exhibition venues include Texas Woman’s University East | West Galleries, Oceanside Museum of Art, Baldwin Photographic Gallery, SDAI Museum, and Fort Wayne Museum of Art. Recognition for her work consists of awards and grants, including twice being a finalist in Critical Mass, two William Male Foundation Grants, the John Chervinsky Emerging Photographer Scholarship, Finalist for the International Photography Grant Award, and Honorable Mention in the International Photography Awards. She has been featured in a wide array of publications, including Art and Cake, Ain’t Bad, Float, Foto Femme United, Lenscratch, L’Oeil de la Photographie, The Photo Review, and underexposed Magazine.
I met Georgescu in person at Medium Photo Festival in 2018. At the time, she lived just outside San Diego, where the festival was. We had been acquainted slightly via FB, but I hadn’t seen much of her work before that chance meeting. When I met her, my personal life was in a sorry state, and to make things worse, I managed to pick up a bug on the plane, making the portfolio review event a challenge for me. But it wasn’t a challenge speaking with Jen. Looking at the large format prints of her experiences with motherhood brought me back to my difficult pregnancy and how challenging being a mother can be while still trying to maintain your work and personal self. It’s an area I’d addressed in my work from 2001 to 2003 – until up around the time I went to grad school when my son was four. Some of Georgescu’s work makes my list of personal favorites; “Mother Series” just resonated with meaning for me, and I still think of it frequently. Georgescu grew up in the foothills of eastern Tennessee, near the Smoky Mountains and Appalachia. Her father loved nature and frequently took the family camping, hiking, and canoeing adventures. Those experiences instilled in Jennifer her love of the great outdoors.
Georgescu’s mother was a nurse; her father was an artist renowned for sculpture. It’s something I did not know about her upbringing, and yet much like us both doing work about motherhood when our children were small, another coincidence. My father attended the School of the Museum of Fine Art Boston for sculpture, and I was also raised in a small-town environment. Unlike my family, her grandfather was also a sculptor and antique dealer, giving her a deep artistic lineage. Her home was typical of its era, complete with a backyard swing set and a dog. Much like mine, it was filled with art. To this day, Georgescu still prefers to fill her walls with art rather than have a plain white wall. She attended an arts high school followed by art school at Watkins College. She told me, “I consider myself lucky that I was born wanting to be an artist, and my deep down gut feeling is that it’s what I’m supposed to be. I never heard an ill word about ‘making it’ as an artist. That encouragement was essential in my life.”
Georgescu told me that her projects analyze the dualisms in language, relationships, mythologies, and control. She is deeply interested in what defines being human, and the imagery reflects her preoccupation with this. Her images, constructed either in the studio or digitally, are conceptual while still dramatically charged with emotion. “I often search for the balance that exists in between these dichotomies – it is how I view humanity; always teetering on the line between fiction and reality, domination and submissiveness, self and other,” Georgescu said.
Watkins College of Art and Design introduced her to conceptual photography, studio lighting, and Adobe Photoshop. She was partial to medium format and had “the most beautiful Hasselblad.” At that time, photography was still more typically done using film rather than digital cameras. Like me, she was not as interested in straight work; Georgescu stated, “For me, photography was always about painting with the camera. I was very into manipulating through perspective and double exposure, painting on my lenses, etc.” The other manipulation was in-camera before making her prints in the color darkroom. (I have incredible admiration for the latter. I spent a semester during grad school doing an indie study in color darkroom work, and I was incredibly unsuccessful at getting the color I wanted from that process.) Later on, Georgescu started scanning her film positives and making inkjet prints from them. It caused her to realize the potentiality of creating images that she stitched together in Photoshop. She said, “After that, I never painted again. I began building small sets and working with props, always with self-portraiture. I was interested in surrealism and cinematic photographers like Cindy Sherman, Duane Michels, Sandy Skoglund, Bill Henson, and Gregory Crewdson. I liked the possibility of what a photograph could be; the potential to create something in such a convincing way.”
DNJ: Why photography over other forms of art?
JG: I like photography’s relationship to reality and memory. Photographs have always lied, but we somehow still have faith in them. When we see a drawing, we ultimately see it as a drawing, no matter how realistic. A photograph is always more than that, it is a document, a testament, and at least some part of it still strikes us as having a basis in reality. We record our lives with it and share information with it. That is its power.
DNJ: Your life changed dramatically in the past couple of years with the move to Switzerland. How has that impacted your work? Did it create mental shifts as well as logistical ones?
JG: I lived in San Diego for about five years before the move; I never truly resonated with the landscape. I missed the forests and rain of Tennessee. Then, when we moved, there was already much upheaval in my daily life due to the pandemic. So moving to Europe didn’t seem quite so shocking anymore! We spent ten days in quarantine before we even knew what was across the street! It was very odd to move to another country without really getting to experience it due to the pandemic.
But relocating to Basel felt a bit like coming home (to TN.) I often go running in the forest, and I love that the Swiss people greatly appreciate nature. I am learning new customs and languages. My children are becoming more Swiss than American because of their young ages. My work is perhaps the one constant that feels the same, but I think there has been so much change in the past couple of years that maybe I cannot see it yet.
DNJ: Tell me about the evolution of the different series you have done. What came first? How did they lead to the next one?
JG: My work continually reflects my life. When I experience something poignant and worthy, I need to describe it emotionally and honestly.
I think the direct evolution of my work came after years of photographing. I created a series in College about time and our awareness of it; how our rationalization of it shapes our humanity. It was the first wholly conceptual work that I had made. It became the foundation of my style.
I have always been deeply interested in what makes us human. I have created work about our relationships with others through language and interpersonal communication. It’s about our longing to be a part of nature, our relationship to fate and free will, making sense of death, and most recently, feeling an innate connection to life and time upon becoming a mother.
Georgescu’s statement for her ongoing project “Mother Series” states:
“In 2015, I became a mother. I was prepared for the grueling labor and sleepless nights, but the loss of my sense of self surprised me. I had no time to think, and I began to feel like a shell of a person. My early days of motherhood were alienating and awful as well as sentimental and dear. I began to see myself as defined only by a relationship.
“I felt that my son was an appendage of myself, the embodiment of self and other. It was hard to accept that he was a growing, changing person while I was forever split. My thoughts are entangled around him when he is near, and I cannot seem to be the person I was before when I am away from him.
“A child is how we remain on Earth; they are our legacies. As I see my son grow, I feel my time begin to speed up; I feel my decay. When we think about birth, we must realize our death. Motherhood is precious and raw; wonderful and dark.”
Reading this, I thought to myself, “No wonder I had felt an immediate connection to this work upon seeing it; the experience of adjusting to new motherhood has been challenging for me as well.”
DNJ: Tell me the origin and meaning of “Mother Series” for you.
JG: “Mother Series” is a heartfelt and complex project that started just three months after I gave birth to my first son. I hadn’t expected the darkness of my first few years of motherhood. It was, of course, beautiful as well, but I hadn’t heard much about what the toll of an all-encompassing relationship takes out of you.
It was surreal. I was quite disabled throughout my entire pregnancy and went from being very active to not being able to walk. Then I gave birth, and my son nursed constantly. I lost weight and could barely find time to make some food for myself; I felt as if I didn’t have time to have thoughts; since I barely slept, I couldn’t dream.
It was a shock to the self, and I didn’t hear anyone talking about it. My mother hadn’t ever mentioned these feelings until I told her about my project and how I felt. I realized that perhaps women weren’t discussing it because it was so inherently linked with shame: we are ashamed because others might see us as ungrateful or a mother who simply isn’t good enough. The mother/child relationship isn’t allowed to have ebbs and flows or ups and downs. It is idealized and sugar-coated.
The immense feeling of loss amid such a beautiful time in my life was so real. Life is never just one thing, and I wanted to show it that way.
DNJ: How long do you think you will continue with it?
JG: It has now been seven years since I began “Mother Series.” I now have two sons who are participating in the project with me. But there is still so much of the story that has yet to unfold.
DNJ: Can you share your approach to creating this work?
JG: “Mother Series” was born out of a need to communicate this new chapter in my life full of intensely complex feelings and strong emotions.
These images have psychological weight, paired with a painterly, almost magical beauty.
When working with my children as babies and now as small children, there is a demand to be quick and focused. I plan thoroughly and test the lights and angles beforehand. That way, I can entirely focus on and capture their gazes and gestures.
DNJ: Are your projects straight shots or digital composites?
JG: I would say that they are both. I have my groove in how I like to create images, but it is ultimately the end piece that matters to me. If the image I see in my mind makes sense as a composite, I create it that way. My composites are detailed and painstaking to create. I plan every aspect, such as lighting and perspective, etc., and photograph every piece to build that one photograph. I don’t like to keep an archive of ‘parts.’
Sometimes the image works best as a ‘straight shot.’ But my idea of a “straight shot” is thoroughly planned and artificially lit; my joy is making work in the studio. In some images, we are all there together, shot side by side using a radio trigger, and sometimes they respond to me behind the lens. There is always some form of conversation taking place.
DNJ: What’s on the horizon for you?
JG: I am now working on my solo show at Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, OR, opening in July. (Please come!)
I intend to keep creating my work on “Mother Series” for as long as it feels fresh. I still live in the throes of motherhood, and it is interesting how that role changes from year to year.
I am also simultaneously working on a series stemming from the tragic loss of my brother this past summer. I hope to describe the thin veil between life and death and find solace through the beauty of time and the fluidity of life.
DNJ: What message do you intend to send out into the world with the work you make?
JG: I believe in sharing experiences with everyone, especially the hard ones because they connect with someone. My work normalizes having deeper conversations about what we are going through and things that matter. These connections give us a common ground, and there is so much peace in knowing that we don’t go through anything alone.
When you think about it, it’s incredible how a great photograph or work of art can have you mentally reliving your own experiences, then revisiting and re-evaluating them through the eyes and sometimes the experiences of another artist. I feel deeply when I look at Georgescu’s work, and I look forward to seeing what comes next.
I find her work poetic and beautiful, and it keeps me looking and returning to it for the fraught entanglement of complex emotions the works portray. I hope you enjoyed reading about Jennifer and seeing her work as much I have enjoyed it.
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